Zechariah Chafee, Jr., University Professor emeritus and vigorous champion of civil rights as well as an authority on equity and commercial law, died yesterday morning of a coronary thrombosis. He had entered the Phillips House of the Massachusetts General Hospital last Saturday. Chafee was 71 years old.
A memorial service will be conducted at 4 p.m., Sunday, in Memorial Church. Interment will be private at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence.
A member of the University faculty for nearly 41 years, Chafee taught at the Law School until 1950, when he became a University Professor. Since his retirement last June, the emeritus professor devoted much energy to the defense of the freedom of expression.
Just two days before entering the hospital, Chafee, who was Lowell Television Lecturer for the current academic year, finished a television series "The Constitution and Human Rights" on Boston's educational Channel, WGBH. The 16 television lectures, an adaptation of a general education course he developed here in 1950, will be distributed nationally to 22 educational channels.
Chafee, a native of Providence, graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School. After three years of law practice in Providence, he returned to the University as an assistant professor of Law in 1916, and became a full professor of Law in 1919.
Chafee himself considered his major work the drafting of the Federal Inter-pleader Act of 1934. Although his interest in civil rights developed as a by-product of his more technical legal work, it was in the defense of free expression that Chafee achieved national prominence.
Chafee served on many committees investigating civil rights, including the vice-chairmanship from 1934-1947 of the Commission on Freedom of the Press. This group included Arthur M. Schlesinger, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History, emeritus, Reinhold Neibuhr and Archibald MacLeish, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory.
He then became one of 12 experts on the United Nations Sub-Commission on Freedom of Information and the Press. He was U.S. delegate to the U.N. Conference in Geneva in 1948.
Chafee's passing is mourned by his many Cambridge friends. Mark DeWolfe Howe '28, professor of Law, commented that Chafee's greatness arose not so much from his prominence in law, but his unusual combination of "humanity and scholarship, of learning and feeling. No one else could match the combination of traits he had."